I entered Ironman UK 2016 in September 2015 after considering what to do after my Open University degree in Engineering had finished, I wanted to do something which would push me, and I thought an Ironman would do that, so I decided to go for it and entered. The usual thoughts of ‘holy crap, what have I done’ entered my mind, but I let Steve Clark, my coach know, following a meeting a plan was hatched.
I decided upon Bolton for the simple reason is that it’s an Ironman branded event, and it’s in this country, I didn’t want to think about the added complexity of racing abroad, so even though it’s a tough course, I thought it suited me being in this country.
The training started fairly well, I had entered a marathon in October 2015, and getting that distance in the legs early days made me feel more comfortable, and the training progressed pretty smoothly, getting in lots of long bikes and long runs, including another marathon in Manchester in April, as well as working on a bit more high intensity running and biking.
Swimming was something that certainly went up a notch during training, I went from doing maybe an hour to an hour and half to over three hours in the pool a week, it was always one of them sessions which was easy to miss when time was short and I never re-arranged a swim, however from booking Ironman I made sure I did nearly every swim session, and it really started to pay dividends.
There were times, when I was in a dark place mentally because of problems I had in my personal life, the focus of my Ironman Training helped a great deal with that, but equally, there were times, when I probably wasn’t a very nice person especially as I approached the race as anxiety and nerves started to creep up, I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to complete the race, but, Steve gave me a big brick session of a 5:30 ride into a 2:30 run, I did this and felt strong, at that point I started to think I might be able to do this! I had dedicated myself whole heartedly to my training, the pressure of wanting to do myself justice, and not let people down who had helped and supported me started to weigh heavy as I approached the race.
I think mentally, for me personally, not having a particularly strong belief in my abilities, or belief in myself being able to complete something as big as an Ironman was really hard, the training was not only physically tough, but mentally tough too, getting the trainers on to go out running after 6:30 of riding or getting in the pool at 6:30 in the morning, when your tired from running the night before was hard, but, the challenge of that was something I stared to relish, so what if I’m tired, just man up and get on with it! Mixed with times when I felt down, or troubled I stated to relish the thought of a big tough training day, I even saw some of the training sessions as a kind of self-harm, try pushing myself to a physical breaking point, because I felt like that mentally, it helped, and the satisfaction of a good training session helped pull me out of some of the dark places I got myself into.
I had my data from my 9 months of training and as I approached the race I started to mimic the race paces and power figures for race day in preparation, to get used to the level of intensity and to fine tune these numbers.
The taper started, and race day soon approached….
The day before the race, I checked into my hotel based inside the Macron stadium (the race HQ) and registered, got all my kit bags, and went back to my room, and proceeded to double check I had all the kit I needed. I drove to Pennington to rack my bike and cycle bag, scoped out the swim course and looked at the swim / bike out sections. Then it was back to T2 to rack my run bag. The organisation at this point was superb, and I enjoyed chatting to a few competitors both experienced and nervous first timers like me, it was settling, especially with the atmosphere and that we are ‘all in it together’.
The race brief was a great experience and genuinely made me feel proud to be part of the event, and made me feel more comfortable about the day to come. After the brief I headed back to the Hotel who had laid on a pasta meal for athletes, so I had a moderate sized meal, making sure I didn’t over eat before heading back to my room at 6:30, I started to think of the training I had done, the hours-upon-hour I had spent preparing for my big day, just don’t mess it up!
I had been waking up earlier and earlier during the previous two weeks to get accustomed to the 3:00 wake up time I knew I’d have on race day, and surprisingly I put my head down around 7:00 and I managed a good solid sleep before my alarm went off at 3:00. I was surprised I slept well, but very relieved. I had my usual race day breakfast of crumpets with PB & J and dressed before heading to the shuttle bus, I arrived at the swim and it was a bustle of nervous athletes and spectators! Christ, this is big!
After I squeezed into my wetsuit, dropped my white bag off and headed to the self-seed swim start area. I found the section which was 1:10 and as I stood there I found I was surrounded by gold ‘All World Athlete’ swim caps, crap, I must be in the wrong area, but I knew my pace from training, and stuck with it.
And boom, the start, as I walked towards the start my heart was pounding, I was taking deep breaths telling myself to stay calm, and the start approached and I walked into the water, and I was away ‘this is it JD your racing in an ironman!’
The swim was brutal, getting bounced around kicked for the first half lap, I thought it would start to thin out but it didn’t and the whole first lap was hard to find rhythm and as I exited the water for the start of the second lap I was slightly behind the time I wanted but not too far, I walked the shore section to relax and stretch my arms, I couldn’t see the need to rush. I entered the water for the second time and thought I would easily find space, but the second lap was as bad as the first!
I then headed towards T1, along the way, as I walked, again taking my time to make sure I was comfortable, I saw Dave Hinch! What a surprise, a quick hand shake, and a ‘you got this Jon’ from Dave gave me a smile all the way into T1.
Again I took time in T1, the weather was cool, and I wanted to make sure I had dried my feet and had my kit on properly and was 100% happy to head out onto the bike course, it’s a long day I told myself, make sure your happy, a few minutes here wont harm.
I found my bike, and out of T1 I saw another friendly face, brilliant!
I headed onto the bike course and the point-to-point cycle to the start of the laps, right JD drink, picked my water bottle off my bike and dropped it, straight under the back wheel and burst it! Crap, no liquid before the first feed then! I knew where the feed was and I knew I’d be ok for the small amount of time to get there, as long as I started to get stuff in me at the feed.
As I entered the laps and the first climb of the day up Sheep House Lane, I thought what’s all the fuss! I felt comfortable and was happy spinning away, and it was like that for the first lap, the crowd up Sheep House Lane where brilliant, as well as fellow athletes, and as I progressed round the first loop I was feeling fairly comfortable, got to the first feed, picked up two bottles and some energizer bars (which I had been using all through training). The crowd really got into the race and people dressed in costumes and shouting and waving banners, I was loving the atmosphere. Then I got to Hunters Hill, wow, that was hard, steep! The crowd there where again exceptional, riding through a gap as wide as a bike, superb! And the rest of the first loop went smoothly, eating and drinking to plan, only starting to feel a little uncomfortable towards the end of the first lap, watching my heart rate and riding to my power figures I knew I needed from training, it’s all in the plan Jon, don’t change it!
As I entered the second lap, I was starting to struggle, up Sheep House Lane to the top, and I was getting in a bad way, the thought of the marathon now was really starting to feel daunting, and as I rode the last lap, the miles seemed to tick off slower and slower, and I started to feel worse and worse, up Hunters Hill the second time, and the only thing that got me up was the crowd shouting my name and cheering, it was an extraordinary feeling, I saw Dave again through one of the villages (can’t remember which one!) and he asked how I was! I wasn’t good, but he ran alongside and gave me some encouragement, not long now JD just get to T2 and get on your feet, I was starting to get into a dark place, and I kept trying to keep my spirits up, it was hard! I was thinking I’m not going to be able to finish, all that, for what, to bail out during the bike, bloody hell, why does my entire body hurt!!
As I approached T2, downhill thank god, my coach Steve Clark was cheering for me, the end of the bike was in sight and I got off my bike and thought, thank god that’s over, my mood lightened!
In T2 again, I took my time, I wanted to be 100% happy again, and as I left transition a quick stop for a toilet break, good stuff, your hydrating well I thought, and I was on my way.
Wow I feel good!! Looking at my watch 7:30min/mile pace, Christ! Slow down!!!!, again Steve was there with some encouragement and advice, and I settled into my 8:30min/mile pace and started to pass people, I quickly found rhythm and was feeling good.
I turned onto the laps, and hit the first feed stops and again followed my nutrition plan, making sure not to over drink and headed into the town centre to see the finish, ‘that’ll be me soon’ I thought, and headed back out, the hill out of the town centre is brutal, so a fast walk up that, then back running, the route at Bolton is uphill away from town and downhill towards the centre, so I kept telling myself not to worry about the feeling heading away, its uphill! The second lap was the same, I started to get a headache (which isn’t unusual for me), I started to not want to eat or drink, keep getting those gels down you, get some liquid! I must be too warm so tip some water over yourself, keep your bloody rhythm!! I started to slow as I got tired but still felt strong considering! I again saw Dave “Come on Jon this is your thing”, he was right! It gave me some confidence, then into the centre and I saw Gavin Mann, and Ric! Some more friendly faces! Great! Put a smile on my face!
Then coming out of the town centre for the last lap…crap I’m struggling now, keep moving! One more lap, I started a run a mile walk a minute and kept my head down as I headed through the lap band section and towards the far feed station, get to the last feed station I told myself its downhill then! I turned at the end, right, its downhill now, 3miles to go, so I plodded, my running didn’t feel pretty but as I turned into the centre, I just told myself, bloody enjoy this bit, you’ve earnt it, you’re going to finish!!
The crowd at this point where going mad! And I approached the start of the finish chute, and I looked forward, the crowd cheering, I was waved into the finish! I entered the finish chute onto the red carpet, a few high fives along the way, soaking up the atmosphere…..
“Jonathan Dixon, you are an IRONMAN” and I was over the line, hands held high.
Wow!, a mix of emotions, I started to feel emotional, 9 months of training, of upset, of being in a bad mood when things didn’t go well, of being too tired to even sleep after some training sessions, of beating PB after PB in training, of every race being a PB in the lead up, of sacrifice in all areas of life, with friends and family, all with one goal of becoming an Ironman, and I had made it, stood on the red carpet in the centre of Bolton.
With a tears in my eyes but a smile on my face, I had my finisher medal place over my head.
The challenge of my first Ironman was over, that 12:58:39 I spent on that day in July will stay with my forever, the crowds, the dark feeling on the bike when I didn’t think I would finish, the feeling on the run, the crowds everywhere, the cheers as I ran down the finish chute, and the words “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. I left the finish area and met Steve, without his coaching I wouldn’t have made it, I know I wouldn’t have, it was fitting to see him at the finish of my Ironman journey since he was there at the start.
And it’s all over, my Ironman training helped me through some dark times mentally and helped with my problems, caused me to fall out with friends now and again, and the way I dedicated myself to this goal for 9 months, and it was over.
But I finish my Ironman journey tougher, mentally tougher and physically tougher, I now know I can dedicate myself to something as daunting as this, sacrifice myself to a goal, and despite the obstacles I came across both mentally and physically I know I can do it, maybe the last 140.6 miles wasn’t the most important thing after all, maybe it was 2551 miles that preceded it, I am not sure, all I know is I am an IRONMAN.